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Personal Statements & Job Application Essays

Advice and Perspective

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Show – don’t tell!

  • This is by far the most important thing we can do!
  • This means not just saying who you are and what you have done, but demonstrating.

Be specific.

  • General phrases are vague, and could have been written by anyone.
  • Describing specifically what you’ve done and what you’ve learned breathes life into your writing – now it will speak with your unique voice.

Keep it recent.

  • Avoid mentioning (or if you must mention, avoid dwelling on) events and experiences that occurred earlier than the last 4 years.
  • Although it may seem like you were meant to be a doctor since you were five years old, the reviewing committee doesn’t want 5-year-olds in med school. Focus on the person you are now, and the recent experiences that have made you that person.

Give yourself room to breathe in early drafts.

  • Always write more to begin with: it is easier to trim a rich, expansive piece of writing than beef up a lean, skimpy one.
  • Write as if you’re writing in a journal that only you will see, not to a scary review committee. Again, you can always to edit your tone to be more formal later, but it will be harder to inject enthusiasm into a dry piece of writing.

Addressing Common Issues

A. If this sounds like you…

  • “This is totally different from what I’ve done before.”
  • “My experiences have been really varied–how do I make them organized and

Try this in your writing…

  • Selection: describe how exploring these other options and ultimately choosing not
    to continue with each has made you sure of what you are about to do now.
  • Synthesis: pick one part (e.g., skill) from each experience and describe how they
    come together to suit the new goal you’re aspiring to.

B. If this sounds like you…

  • “When I read through, it feels like a list and not a story.”
  • “I’m afraid of leaving out something important if I don’t talk about everything.”

Try this in your writing…

  • Highlighting: which of the things you list gets you the most excited? Focus on this one alone as the best example.
  • Reorganization: consider moving certain experiences from your statement to your resume or other materials you’re submitting.

C. If this sounds like you…

  • “I feel like I have to explain why I’m not doing something else.”
  • “I do care about this position, but one of my main motivations is money/the trip to
    Europe/another line on my resume/not knowing what else to do.”

Try this in your writing…

  • Tone Change: don’t defend your choices–motivate them. When you find a sentence that’s defensive or explanatory, edit the wording so you’re focusing on the positive, exciting side.
  • Motivation: it’s not unusual to be driven by many motives, some of which you wouldn’t want to say to a reviewer’s face. Step away from your draft and revisit the experiences that have excited you about this topic either privately on paper or in conversation with a friend, family member, or Writing Studio consultant can help you rediscover your finest motivations.

Last revised: November 2022 | Adapted for web delivery: November 2022

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